In the last five years, nearly 8 million women have faced a breast cancer diagnosis, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer. A breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment is a life-altering event that deeply affects a person’s quality of life, stress levels, and wellbeing.
On World Cancer Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness and encouraging the prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer, we’re turning our focus to an emerging aspect of cancer care—managing stress in breast cancer patients.
A new way to manage a breast cancer diagnosis
A study published in the Integrative Cancer Therapies journal looks into the potential of meditation and EEG technology, specifically the Muse headband, in lessening the mental and emotional strain that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis. This study suggests a promising, accessible, and thoughtful approach to relieve stress for those facing cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Conducted by a team of researchers at the Mayo Clinic, this randomized controlled study examines the effectiveness of using Muse’s wearable EEG headband for women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The primary goal was to investigate whether this pairing of technology and meditation could alleviate the psychological burdens cancer patients face, specifically targeting stress, quality of life, and fatigue.
The study enrolled 30 women ages 20-75 years who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and had been scheduled for surgical treatment. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The intervention group used the Muse headband for guided meditation, while the control group received CD-based stress-reduction education.
Participants in the Muse group used the Muse app for real-time feedback on their brain’s state during meditation sessions, while the control group logged their progress manually.
Stress, fatigue, and overall quality of life were not just words but quantifiable elements in this study. Surveys and questionnaires like the Multidimensional Fatigue Symptom Inventory-Short Form (MFSI-SF), the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-General (FACT-G), and the Perceived Stress Scale, were used to quantify fatigue, quality of life, and stress at four key intervals: baseline before surgery, within 4 days before surgery, up to two weeks after surgery, and 3 months post-surgery.
The study showcases several interesting results:
- The Muse group showed a reduction in stress levels. Specifically, the Muse group showed a decrease in the Perceived Stress Scale scores by an average of 6 points from baseline to three months post-surgery. Learn about the costly effects of mental fatigue here.
- The Quality of Life scores, measured by the FACT-G, improved in the Muse group. Participants reported an increase in overall quality of life by participating in the study.
- Using the MFSI-SF, the Muse group showed a decrease in fatigue scores by an average of 17 points from baseline to three months post-surgery. Specifically, there were improvements in emotional and mental fatigue as well as vigor scores.
- In the Muse group, a notable 93% of users said they would be willing to participate in the study again, commenting that the EEG headband was simple to set up and integrate into their daily lives.
The study shows the potential of brain-sensing meditation devices like the Muse 2 Headband in managing stress and improving the quality of life for breast cancer patients. The reported reductions in stress and fatigue, along with improved life quality measures, highlight the benefits of using wearable EEG technology in combination with meditation to support cancer patients during challenging times.
Understanding stress on breast cancer patients
Healthcare professionals are increasingly recognizing the role of stress as a factor in how patients feel throughout their cancer treatment. It can make symptoms worse, delay healing, and significantly impact overall health. Chronic stress might even impact the progression of the disease, making effective stress management crucial in the treatment and recovery process.
Here are a few side effects of stress on breast cancer patients:
Immune system response. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making it less effective in fighting off diseases, including cancer. The body’s stress response, which releases cortisol and other stress hormones, can impair immune function over time, potentially affecting the body’s ability to suppress tumor growth.
Hormonal changes. For breast cancer specifically, stress can influence the levels of certain hormones like estrogen, which is linked to the development and progression of the disease. High-stress levels can lead to hormonal imbalances, potentially progressing the disease.
Psychological and emotional effects
Anxiety and depression. The psychological burden of a cancer diagnosis often manifests as anxiety and depression. Mental health conditions like these can affect a patient’s ability to stick to their treatment plans and may affect their medical outcomes.
- Quality of life. Prolonged stress can severely impact the quality of life, affecting sleep, mood, and overall emotional well-being. This type of strain on the body and mind can make it difficult for patients to cope with the physical aspects of breast cancer treatment.
Risk of cancer growth. Some studies suggest that stress might influence the growth and spread of cancer. Stress hormones can stimulate angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) and lymphangiogenesis (the formation of lymphatic vessels), which can accelerate tumor growth and metastasis.
- Delayed healing. Stress can delay wound healing, including post-surgery recovery, as it diverts the body’s resources away from the healing process to manage the stress response.
Given the adverse impact of stress on the physical and mental health of people with cancer, incorporating stress management techniques into the treatment plan is essential. Practices like mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, relaxation exercises, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help reduce stress and improve quality of life.
As the Mayo Clinic study shows, with just a few minutes of daily meditation in a quiet environment, patients can cope with their cancer treatment in a more manageable way.
Incorporating tech-based meditation into cancer care
Beating cancer means tackling not just the physical but also the mental and emotional challenges that come with the diagnosis. Managing stress is a critical, yet often overlooked aspect of cancer care.
While meditation alone can’t cure breast cancer, combining it with wearable EEG devices, like the Muse 2 Headband, can offer a practical, comfortable approach to stress management during treatment.
This World Cancer Day, we are reminded of the ongoing need to push the boundaries of cancer care and think outside the box when it comes to making cancer treatment more manageable.
Mayo Clinic’s study provides a use-case for the integration of technology like the Muse 2 Headband with traditional meditation practices into patient care regimens. This combination can usher in a more patient-focused approach to cancer treatment.